Plenty of forests but no species to call them home
Vientiane Times, July 17, 2013
By Keoxomphou Sakdavong
Laos is rich in natural resources and biodiversity, yet there is only the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area (NEPL-NPA) which provides a suitable home for the country's many endangered species.
NEPL-NPA is located across the three northern provinces of Huaphan, Luang Prabang and Xieng Khuang. It has a total area of 4,200 sq km and features 129 villages in eight districts.
The NPA is home to a number of endangered species, including the rare Indochinese tiger.
At least nine tigers live in Nam Et-Phou Louey, according to the area Deputy Head, Mr Bouathong Xayavong.
Laos has long been recognised as one of several countries around the world with thick forest cover, providing one of the best environments in the world for a variety of plants, wildlife and aquatic species to thrive.
At an environmental conference at Vientiane's National Culture Hall in 2011, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Dr Ty Phommasak, said the Lao forests were a unique place, home to more than 8,100 flower varieties, 100 large mammal species, 166 reptile and amphibian species, 90 types of bat and more than 700 species of bird.
The Lao government has approved 24 national forest protected areas around the country to conserve biodiversity, wildlife, aquatic species and trees, and each year the country celebrates World Wildlife Conservation Day on July 13.
The national forest protected areas cover about 4 million hectares of land. Apart from this, there are a further 66 areas protected at a provincial level, covering 600,000ha, and 143 forest areas protected at a district level on an area of 400,000ha.
But despite nearly 5 million hectares of land being marked as protected areas, forest cover in Laos has declined dramatically over the years.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, forest cover dropped from 64 percent of the entire country in 1960 to 47.2 percent by 1992, and was down to 41 percent in 2001.
The Lao government aims to boost forest cover back to 65 percent by 2015 and 70 percent by 2020.
Relevant government ministries and international organisations, including the Wildlife Conservation Society and the World Bank, have recognised Nam Et-Phou Louey as one of the last homes of a number of endangered species, the Indochinese tiger in particular.
The tigers' main food is meat such as pig, deer, monkey, gaur, goat and water buffalo. If the forest does not continue to have a great deal of biodiversity and hence food sources for the tiger, the unique species will not last in Nam Et-Phou Louey.
Out of 24 national forest protected areas, Nam Et-Phou Louey is the only one to play host to tigers.
That alone demonstrates how healthy the area's ecosystem is – tigers have chosen Nam Et-Phou Louey to be their home, rather than any of the other protected areas lying right across the country, north to south.
The tigers are sending a message to the concerned ministries; more than 20 protected areas in Laos are not rich enough in natural resources, and their ecosystems are not doing as well as Nam Et-Phou Louey.
To preserve endangered species in Laos and ensure the country provides the best possible home to its rare tiger population and the other 100 mammal species originally from here, Nam Et-Phou Louey should be held up as a model for conserving biodiversity and forestry.
If Nam Et-Phou Louey was not part of active conservation efforts there would be no tigers left in Laos, and according to a report from the World Bank's Global Environment Facility, the area has biological significance at a global, national and local level.
The lessons learnt from Nam Et-Phou Louey should be shared with authorities responsible for other forest protected areas across the country, and the Forestry Law needs to be strictly upheld.
Article 18 of the law says forest protected areas are set aside to protect plants, animals and anything else in the forest which may have value for history, culture, tourism, the environment or education purposes.
If the law and its definition of a protected area are followed strictly, Laos and its 24 national protected areas will remain a safe home for endangered species, which will be able to thrive in the country forever more.
"Nam Et-Phou Louey should be held up as a model for conserving biodiversity and forestry"